There’s already been a few words of note said about Tablet computing in this space. As a new contributor to Logistics, however, I wanted to comment as well and expand on what’s already been stated. First off, let’s get right down to the heart of the matter: how will this new device work for me? This, not resolution, processing power, storage capacity, etc, is what matters to the general consumer. How easy is the product to use AND what am I going to do with it once I actually have it. I’ve highlighted some key areas I feel are important in day-to-day use from both my own use and from what I’ve researched in my own time.
Full disclosure: I do currently own a first gen Apple iPad. I’ve also own/used an Amazon Kindle2. As a lot of the heavy hitters in the emerging tablet market are not actually available at this point, portions of this post will be speculation derived from use of the Android OS, as well as early hands on previews I’ve absorbed from a variety of technical sources.
With that said and out of the way, the first, most important piece of advice I can give anyone that’s about to drop a wad of cash on a shiny new tablet computer is that you should purchase the product that best suits your needs. You may be tempted to go out and buy the most expensive, hottest item on the market, but in reality you’re going to waste money if you’re not going to use that device to its full potential. In other words, don’t get sucked into a 3G enabled device if you don’t plan on using it away from your home or If you’re going to simply use your tablet for reading books, then just buy an eReader. Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and a few other lesser known manufactures are really adapting eReaders to today’s market. More on this will be covered in the actual eReading section below.
I started out with a Kindle2. This, honestly, was wonderful, but also very limited in what it could do. It was excellent for reading, but that’s honestly it. Since I returned mine and got an iPad, the Kindle, Nook, and others have all released updated iterations with enhanced screens, more memory, and more features. Some boast 3G for downloading books on the go, and a new version of the Nook is being released shortly with a full color screen, WiFi, and Android OS. Most likely, Amazon will be following up with a full color version of the Kindle at some point in the near future as well, but only time can tell on that one.
I do the majority of my eReading now using the Amazon Kindle app on my iPad. This application is available on both Apple and Android devices and, in my opinion, provides greater flexibility than the stock eReaders themselves. Since the screen is more interactive than an eInk screen (black and white, non touch screen produced to more closely simulate that of an actual printed page), you just have more options. I can highlight text, make notes, search, and find references all with the swipe of a finger. There’s also more options for background colors of text, text size, and even fonts. The screen and overall reading experience is still really good, although admittedly nowhere near that of an actual eInk screen.
This really comes down to use. Are you solely going to read books and leave general computing to a laptop or desktop? Buy a Nook, Kindle, or similar device. Are you going to want to pop out of that book, check your e-mail, Facebook, some sports scores, and chat with some friends? Buy a tablet (iPad, Archos, GalaxyTab, etc).
Cost and Networking:
Obviously this all comes down to personal budget and uses as well. The Samsung GalaxyTab seems like its going to be one of the most expensive on the market, even at its cheaper than iPad $400 price point. Over the long term, you have to account for the hardware AND a 2 year contract with the carrier of your choice. This is one of the areas where your overall usage is really going to factor into what tablet to purchase. If you don’t really plan on bringing your tablet places and surfing the web from the beach, you may want to consider a WiFi only option. You may pay more initially than for a subsidized, carrier sponsored tablet, but you also won’t be locked into a contract and won’t have to pay for service you won’t be using.
Most iterations coming out now are in the 7″ or 10″ ranges. This, once again, is preference. If you plan on using your tablet everywhere you go, the 7″ may be more convenient. Personally, as an iPad owner that sticks to WiFi, the 10″ size doesn’t bother me. It fits perfectly in my hands or on my lap and the extra screen area is utilized nicely. If I was constantly on the go, however, I’d be worried about the size attracting unwanted eyes and even just banging it on things (I can be clumsy). Since my iPhone is basically a smaller version of my iPad (with arguably more or less features, depending on what I’m doing), I find it perfect to just carry that outside the home and use my iPad when I’m in. This, as I’ve said, is pure preference and I’d recommend trying out devices that a friend may own or even checking them out in store to see what feels comfortable to you.
Applications and Ease of Use:
Applications are a pretty powerful part of tablet computing (as well as most cell phones these days). In general, I tend to stick mostly to free apps. Besides games, you can usually find a full free or lite version that will do what you want. I’ve covered eReading in the section above, but there are some general productivity application suites consumers should be aware of and some pitfalls associated with use. The iPad has a iWork suite (Pages, Numbers, and Keynote) which use a virtual, on screen touch keyboard for interaction. This is definitely usable and a good experience for this type of device, but is still nowhere near the interactivity of an actual keyboard. Typing, at times, is cramped and still awkward. If you plan on writing a novel or really getting into different presentations, look into a netbook or laptop. I enjoy cursory, short bursts of typing on the iPad, but I couldn’t imagine typing 1500 words on there. There are other suites as well (OpenOffice, etc) that are universal across platform.
The iPad does not support Flash, and most likely will not in the foreseeable future as CEOs clash over what’s best for the consumer. If you plan on viewing/using a lot Flash oriented websites and games, don’t get an Apple device. Most Android tablets will be shipping (or update ready) for Flash 10.1.
As far as overall use, if you are familiar with any touchscreen device these days, you should be able to pick up a tablet with minimal issues. Swipe to go from home screen to home screen. Click on an application to open it, etc. This is also all preference and I highly recommend trying before you buy.
Cameras & Peripheral Connectivity:
The current iteration of the iPad is cameraless. I expect this to change when v2.0 is released. Most likely, iPad 2.0 will follow the same camera philosphy that the iPhone 4, newer Android phones, and some of the soon-to-be Android tablets have: High Res camera on the back for pictures and a lower res camera on the front for video chat. Is this necessary? Totally up to consumers, but its just how technology is trending right now.
As for connectivity, here’s a flat out fact: the iPad is terrible for this. You can buy adapters, cables, and try and find ways to transfer files wirelessly (ie. Dropbox), but at some point from unboxing to usage to anything, you’re going to have to connect it a computer and sync it using Apple’s proprietary connector with iTunes. It’s just a fact. Does this work? Yes. Is it the way things should be? No. Newer devices will be heading (hopefully) towards additional means of wireless syncing, micro usb for cameras and video recorders, and even HDMI for direct to TV access. Apple will most likely stick to their proprietary cable. Just keep this in mind when you buy your device. Is it a huge deal? No, but it definitely should factor into your decision.
In closing, and I know this is going to sound completely inane as a guide, but if you decide to go out and purchase a tablet, the best fit is really up to you. I can’t say with 100% certainty that the 3g 64GB iPad is going to be the best for you because it might not. Assess what you’re going to do with the device. Do you plan on putting a lot of pictures, documents, and movies on there? Do you plan on loading it up with every app you find in its associated market? If yes to those, you may want to max out storage capacity. If no, entry level would be fine. Do you plan on traveling a lot and will not be sure WiFi will be available? Make sure you get 3G or MiFi and an associated plan. There are a lot of options for a reason here and only you, the consumer, can decide what’s really going to fit your day-to-day needs. The best and only advice I can give is to go out there, try these devices to see what feels comfortable, and assess your overall usage before you buy.
Oh and, as always, don’t forget to have fun with it.